A Little List for Lubbers

copyright Holly Ingraham


Okay, not all of you are. But I'm writing for them.

The rest of you can come along to find books on historical situations and vessels that will suit your steampunkery, your althist or histfy or histsf, or building an original world with your choice of sailing tech.

A recent REF (at OWWW) on sailboats left me wondering just how much background people have and how incomprehensible I was being with my automatic chatter about lateen sails, kedge-anchors, and the rest.

Simply, I came to realise it's not something to cover in a couple of e-mails AND many of you will have similar situations when it comes to a character putting a foot on a deck. So, until I boot my collaborator into getting back to work on Sail Write, reading these can hold you. They're focused on vessels without engines, though steamships and motorboats do sneak in. They are all ones I own and have read (though not all that I have), not titles pulled out of a bibliography.

I'm including a lot of different technologies or traditions because in your world it doesn't have to be European and it isn't necessarily like one certain period. You can have sampans and kayaks on the same river! I don't have everything here, but you don't want everything. In fact, I dropped a number of things as too advanced or specialist, like many titles on yachting or the fine art of rowing = sculling on the Thames. If the title has ** after it, it's a free download somewhere trustworthy.

Just remember, it's a line, not a rope, and things in the water don't have brakes.

General Boating & Sailing

This may be the most important, because it gives you the language to understand others. These will include the basics of sailing and navigation, which you can apply anywhere.

My favorite general light reference on sailing ships is Sailing Ships (1976; Rand McNally, NY). Attilio Cucari is a good general introduction, this covers from 1200-1920, both military and merchant -- mainly because they were strongly linked, and merchantmen became warships of a lesser sort rather quickly when necessary. Not gospel, but can be handy home reference. Many essays on development or details of terminology, so you know when a ship is not a ship, but a barkentine. Also covers basic manuevering with sailing ships. Interesting overview with pretty pictures BUT illos are not proportional, only a rough idea of appearance. Hold a piece of paper across the waterline to see what they look like when not sailing through the sky above you, a loathesome angle to have drawn them at. Layout is generally a colour painting, a box with that ship's stats, line-drawing diagrams, and a small essay.

You can get yourself oriented with Seamanship: Including Names of Principal Parts of a Ship; ... (1865: James Griffin) by George Strong Nares. This includes sailing ships and powered vessels, heaving a log line (which I haven't found elsewhere), and a terrifyingly complete vocabulary. However, this copy is from Google, and some pages are just thoroughly messed up in scanning.

Land-lubbers will do themselves a favour to start by reading Ships and Shipping. A Handbook of Popular Nautical Information; with Numerous Diagrams, Plans, and Illustrations **(1903; Alexander Moring Ltd/The De la More Press, London) edited by Francis Miltoun This is a true basic, starting with the 18th chapter, Nautical Vocabulary. As Miltoun says,

"This book has been compiled with the object of providing in a convenient and attractive form nautical information of the kind required by intelligent landsmen whose interest has been raised in the maritime heritage of our empire. Information of this kind has hitherto been almost entirely inaccessible, since it is contained partly in large and cumbrous books of reference, and partly in expensive technical works, or in Government publications."

As a writer, you ought to feel that's you, despite the "rule Britannia" of it all. And, yeah, the info is hard to come by, because most maritime books are either about warships and sea battles, or for people who are going to go do the stuff, while this has a lot on merchantmen.

We will, of course, notice that the difficult-to-find information in Miltoun is really the British maritime stats. For the matter of sailing, he has been long preceded by Bowditch. However, Bowditch is for the mariner, and isn't so hand-holding for the lubber. Bowditch is aimed at the person who is going to go do this sailing stuff, especially one who wishes to increase his skills in order to rate promotions. So it's probably good to start with Miltoun.

Nathaniel Bowditch ought to be venerated for founding The American Practical Navigator (US Hydrographic Bureau; (free download 1995 edition online in PDFs) ** The main link will take you to the latest "buy a dead tree" edition (though not the CD-ROM), the date link to an older pdf copy. The newest edition still covers weather and sea conditions, how to do celestial navigation with tools like sextants, dead reckoning, etc. Your sailing characters will need to do this. I just stumbled on my '38 in a local thrift shop (I live on an island, after all, and old sailing books fill the attics). The author name link takes you to the article on him at Wikipedia, which is worth reading.

Bruce Bauer's The Sextant Handbook (1995; McGraw-Hill Professional) is available as PDF on Google Books **. This one is particularly good because of the long introduction in the opening chapters on the history of the development of the sextant, so it covers quadrants, astrolabes, and other early devices, and their limitations. Lightly written and pleasant reading, even when he gets down to the technical stuff.

Build your own sextant from a CD and the back of its jewel case {free site}--something to do with that album you hate or the backup burn that failed or yet another AOL offer, and the jewel case with the broken lid hinges. But don't believe him that all sextants start at $50 in plastic: in 2007, I got a lovely brass one with the half-mirror, coloured lenses, &c. for less than $30 with shipping. Check the internet. You ought to know by now that I believe in hands-on research: you learn so many things about your character and details you can build in, even plot twists that come out of actually doing the things. If you are going to have a navigator for more than a single short story, learn to shoot stars yourself. It will add immeasurably to the realism, and the first thing fantasy needs is a lot of realism to make the fantastic parts more believable. Histfi and scifi need it even more, hm?

Charles G. ,Davis 1870-1959, ed; Harper's Boating Book for Boys; a Guide to Motor Boating, Sailing, Canoeing and Rowing **(1912; New York, London, Harper & Brothers). Alas, rowing is about sculling, not dories, but the real fun is that it includes how to build many small craft.

Warren H. Miller, 1876-1960; Canoeing, Sailing and Motor Boating** (1917; New York, George H. Doran company). Canoeing is a hard subject to find books on, but it figures it would be an American book that turns up.

Ahmed John Kenealy, 1854; Boat Sailing in Fair Weather and Foul **(1903; New York [etc.] The Outing publishing co.). Outing books are generally good, and among sailing books this is unusual in paying so much attention to the weather.

Edward Frederick Knight 1852; Small-boat Sailing; an Explanation of the Management of Small Yachts, Half-decked and Open Sailing-boats of Various Rigs; Sailing on Sea and on River; Cruising, etc **(1902; New York, E. P. Dutton & co.)

Now, let's break it down by era/area/technique.

General History

George C. V Holmes; Ancient and Modern Ships. Part 1. Wooden Sailing Ships**

E. Keble Chatterton; Sailing Ships: the Story of Their Development from Earliest Times to the Present Day **(1909; London: Sidwick and Jackson)

Phil E. Chappell; A History of the Missouri River: Discovery of the River by the Jesuit Explorers; Indian Tribes along the River; Early Navigation and Craft Used; the Rise and Fall of Steamboating ** ([1911? Kansas City?: s.n.]). This tells you about bull boats (much like the coracles of ancient Mesopotamia), flat-boats, and the rest of the craft likely to be encountered. You just have to skip past the history of exploration section.

Ancient & Primitive

Robert Gardiner, ed.; The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats into Ships; 1996; Conway Maritime Press; ships, Bronze Age, Celts, Vikings, Arabs, galleys, boats, Greece, Roman Empire, Middle Ages, Africa, Asia, Arabia, Mid East, Japan; -09000-1300;

Steve Vinson; Egyptian Boats and Ships; 1994; Shire Publications, Princes Risborough, Shire Egyptology; Egypt, ships, boats, sailing; 5500-395 BC.

George Fadlo Hourani & John Carswell; Arab Seafaring; Princeton University Press; 1995 Expanded ed. Focuses on Arab (not necessarily Muslim) seafaring in the Indian Ocean, not the Mediterranean, but much of the information crosses over, and one section is specifically African, just as it also covers the Mediterranean and Chinese trade. Runs from the Classical period BC through the tenth century CE. The section on the ships themselves covers the development of stitched planking and the fore-n-aft lateen rig to replace square sails. Lots of wonderful detail on ports and day-to-day life, besides shipwrecks

John Warry; Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors & Warfare in the Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome (1980; Salamander Books, London) warfare, Greece, Rome, Roman Empire, army, soldiers, Alexander the Great; -01200-0450. This includes naval warfare, and has some nice succinct stuff on pentakonter, biremes, &c.

William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret.; Greek and Roman Naval Warfare. A Study of Strategy, Tactics, and Ship Design from Salamis (480 BC) to Actium (31 BC); 1934, 1964; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; ships, sailing, Antiquity, Greece, Roman Empire, Egypt, Carthage, Persians, Artemisia of Halikarnassos; 480-31 BC

The Fleets of the World. The Galley Period ** (1876: New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher) by Foxhall A. Parker, which seems never to have had later volumes.

I am not too crazy about Lionel Casson for beginners. Basically, you need to be able to recognize when he is smoking bad stuff. When he says ancient galleys were "overgrown racing shells" and fragile, he's silly, and he insists on including Egyptian ships in his book when he knows almost less than you do about them. Oh, just read my review at either of these books for the details. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times; 1991; Princeton U Press, Princeton NY; sailing ships, galleys, ancient, Mediterranean, pentakonters, biremes; and Travel in the Ancient World; 1974, 1994; Johns Hopkins U Press, Baltimore; covers 3000-400 BC. On land travel he's much better, except he's an idiot about horses. And you're not here for land travel. But his notes on how sailing ship captains often acted as an informal post office, travel times, &c, are worth digging through. Mainly, I'm including these in case a friend trills that you muuuussst have these. You can skip them entirely.


William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret.; Naval Warfare Under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries. A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design; 1940, 1967; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; ships, sailing, Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Byzantium, Venice, Crusades, Islam, Saracens, Roman Empire, Vikings, France, England, Italy, Cyprus, Lepanto, Armada Fight, Elizabethan; 0300-1600; Greek fire, ship size & speed, dromons, ballistics for long bows & crossbows, guns & small arms. Adm. Rodgers is a personal favorite, but in this volume his coverage of Viking ships is very weak (see The Vikings below, both of them). His longbow ballistics are total junk. He bases them on the bows and performances of champion amateurs of the early 20th C, who would have a hard time making a high school archery team nowadays. He simply does not consider 125-pound bows and working-man's accuracy. For real longbows, see The Longbow by Robert Hardy.

Norbert Ohler, trans. by Caroline Hilleir; The Medieval Traveller; 1986; trans 1989; Artemis Verlag; Boydell Press, Woodbridge, UK; travel, boats, sailing ships, horses, mules, donkeys; 1000-1500. This is good all around, though he does contradict himself a trifle here and there. Unusual in covering river traffic, which was how most things moved in commerce.

Else Roesdahl, trans. by Susan M. Margeson & Kirsten Williams; The Vikings; 1987, 1991; Penguin Books, London; 0700-1100

Ian Heath; plates by Angus McBride; The Vikings; 1993; Osprey Publishing Ltd., London; military, Viking, Norse, armour, weapons, ships, buildings, Rus, Dark Ages, Migration; 0700-1066


GRG Worcester; The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze; 1971; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; Covers 420-1970. This is gigantic. You can hurt yourself picking it up carelessly. But if you want to learn about Asian river vessels, I don't know of anything better.

Louise Levathes; When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433; 1994; Oxford U Press, Oxford & NY; sailing ships, China, Africa, junks; 1405-1433. This isn't so much technically about the ships, though it does give you some basis in saltwater vessels. What it does do is show you how a fleet was organized and sent out, when not by Europeans.

William Spencer Percival; The Land of the Dragon. My Boating and Shooting Excursions to the Gorges of the Upper Yangtze ** (1889; London, Hurst and Blackett, limited). Thin on technique or description, but the best for incident that I can find.


Luther Stevenson Edward; Official Guide, Historical Educational Cruise of the Santa Maria, Spain's Official Replica of the Flagship of Admiral Columbus En Route from Chicago to the Panama-Pacific Exposition, Sailing in New Water; Including: Description of the Relics Shown on Board the Santa Maria; History of the Rebuilding of the Santa Maria ** (1914; [Reading, Pa., Eagle publishing company]). Okay, this may be a bit technical, but it's modern people sailing a real galleon.

James Anthony Froude, ; English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century. Lectures delivered at Oxford, Easter terms, 1893-4 ** (1895; New York: C. Scribner's Sons). Typical life aboard.

Robert Gardiner, editor; Cogs, Caravels and Galleons; The Sailing Ship 1000-1650; 1994; Conway Maritime Press, London; sailing ships, cogs, caravels, galleons; 1000-1650

Rayner Thrower; The Pirate Picture; 1980; Pillimore & Co, Ltd; B&N; 500BC-1827CE

Angus Konstam; plates by Angus McBride; Buccaneers 1620-1700; 2000; Osprey Publishing Ltd., London

Angus Konstam; plates by Tony Bryan; The Pirate Ship 1660-1730; 2003; Osprey Publishing Ltd., London;

John Esquemeling; Basil Ringrose; The Buccaneers of America,, with The Voyage of Capt. Bartholomew Sharp; 1678; repr. Dorset Press, 1987; 1650-1680. For incident and how it really worked. Most of those infamous pirates were not romantic: they were homicidal psychos.


High Development

Ralph D. Paine gives us The Old Merchant Marine: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors **(before 1918) about merchant ships, clippers, packets, privateers, pirates, &c from 1629 to 1879.

John Robinson, 1846-1925; Dow, George Francis, 1868-1936; The Sailing Ships of New England, 1607-1907 **(1922; Salem, Mass.: Marine Research Society)

Robert Gardiner, , editor; The Line of Battle: The Sailing Warship 1650-1840; 1992; Conway Maritime Press, London; sailing ships, warships, oared sail, tactics, gunnery; 1650-1840

David R. MacGregor, ; The Tea Clippers: Their History and Development 1833-1875; 1952, 1972, 1983; Conway Maritime Press, London; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; clipper ships; 1833-1875

David R. MacGregor, ; British & American Clippers: A Comparison of Their Design, Construction and Performance in the 1850s; 1993; Conway Maritime Press, London; clipper ships; 1845-1859

Clifford W. Ashley, ; The Yankee Whaler; 1926; Houghton Mifflin, Boston; sailing ships, boats, whaling, Edwardian; 1614-1904

Charles G. Davis, ; American Sailing Ships, Their Plans and History (orig. Ships of the Past); 1929, 1984; Dover, NY; ships, sailing; 1860-1925

Ralph D. Paine, ; The Old Merchant Marine,: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors **; before 1918

Theodore Roscoe, , & Fred Freeman; Picture History of the US Navy: From Old Navy to New 1776 to 1897; 1956; Chas. Scribner's Sons, NY; ships, Navy, sailing, sailors; 1776-1897

John D. Whidden, , 1832; Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days, from Forecastle to Quarter-deck ** (1908; Boston, Little, Brown, and company)

William Edward Verplanck, , 1856-; Collyer, Moses Wakeman; Woolsey, George Davis, 1829-1900; The Sloops of the Hudson; an Historical Sketch of the Packet and Market Sloops of the Last Century, with a Record of Their Names; Together with Personal Reminiscences of Certain of the Notable North River Sailing Masters ** (1908; New York and London: G. P. Putnam's sons)

Books of Voyages

These give you authentic incidents you can adapt.

Voyage of the Paper Canoe, A Geographical Journey of 2500 Miles from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, during the Years 1874-5 ** by N. H. Bishop, 1878. The next book he did came of taking a Barnegat sneak-box (a kind of small boat) down the great rivers, which is very useful for someone besides Mark Twain talking about life on the Mississippi, and for his descriptions of other watercraft.

Bishop, Nathaniel H. (Nathaniel Holmes), 1837-1902; Four Months in a Sneak-box. A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and along the Gulf of Mexico ** (1879; Boston, Lee & Shepard; New York, C.T. Dillingham)

Laporte, Laurent; Sailing on the Nile **(1872; Boston, Roberts). It's by a Frenchman, and I have found most French travelogs of this period are all about the writer. I frequently wish he would tell us a bit more about the ship or the crew's work. Still, it's worth the reading as at least one report of a popular trip to make.

Have fun, and I hope this helps!

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